Firing teachers because their students aren’t learning fast enough is one of the “big ideas” on the education agenda these days. The more-or-less technical term is Value Added Measurement (VAM, for short), which means evaluating teachers based on the test scores of students. The impetus comes from an understandable desire for scientific measurement, and an underlying belief that lack of student achievement has one primary cause: bad teaching.
VAM brings with it a whole boatload of practical and conceptual problems. Just a few of the practical problems:
- Jane teaches eighth grade social studies. Should her evaluation be based on one year’s improvement in her students’ reading and math scores?
- Joe teaches in a poor neighborhood, and only 15 of his 30 4th graders were there for the whole year. Should his evaluation be based on only those 15 students’ scores? On all of his students’ scores? On the scores of those who were in his class for at least six months?
- Renee is known as a teacher who is skilled at working with disruptive boys, so the principal frequently assigns the “problem children” to her class. Is it fair to evaluate her without making some allowance for this?
The conceptual problems are even trickier. Are students like widgets, so that you can measure worker (teacher) efficiency by measuring the (student) product at the September and May points on the educational assembly line?
More important — is the purpose of evaluation simply to identify “good” and “bad” teachers (accountability) or is it also to help teachers improve in their practice of teaching (formative evaluation)?
A recent article in Education Week brings these conceptual issues into sharp focus. Stephen Fink writes:
“Absolutely, teachers and leaders must be held accountable for the quality of education in their schools and districts. That said, how we use the new evaluation tools will determine whether we simply create the aura of accountability or actually help our teachers grow and improve their practice.”
Fink points out that educational leaders — principals and superintendents and the like — need to develop expertise in instruction and in using the tools for evaluation.
“Even with an ample investment in developing leaders’ instructional expertise, continuous growth and improvement will not occur without an investment in part two of the equation. We must equip leaders with the knowledge and skills necessary to grow teachers’ practice, such as:
• How to provide real-time, useful feedback to teachers.
• How to engage in difficult/challenging conversations.
• How to create a culture of collaboration and reflective practice.
• How to develop cycles of inquiry that result in teachers’ taking on the responsibility for their own (and others’) growth and learning.”
What is actually happening on the ground in Minnesota? We plan to publish a series of articles as part of the community conversation about teacher evaluation. We want to publish parts of the conversation that are occurring among teachers, policymakers, principals, union leaders, parents … among all who are involved in this conversation. We will publish multiple articles, highlighting multiple points of view.
Among the questions we plan to address:
1. What evaluations are used now in your school?
2. What are the plans for new statewide standards for teacher evaluation?
3. What are Value Added Measures and in what ways do they work/not work?
4. Have you had an experience with evaluation that helped you to become a better teacher?
5. Have you had a bad experience with evaluation — as a teacher or as a principal or administrator?
If you’d like to submit an article, or if you are willing to talk to a reporter about your experience with evaluation, just email firstname.lastname@example.org.